Sunday, July 26, 2009

July 26, Feast day of Saint James, Loiza, 1949

This footage was directed by Ricardo Alegria, a pioneering cultural historian and anthropologist. He founded the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture, among infinite achievements on behalf of recording Island culture.

Footage of celebrations of the feast day of the Apostle Saint James (Santiago), in Loiza, Puerto Rico. Saint James, Patron of Spain, is known there as Santiago Matamoros (yes, Moorslayer, referring to the "reconquest" of Spain from the Muslims, surely Dick Cheney has an altar to this saint in his bedroom).

Loiza is known for the preservation of African music and dance and their festival honoring Saint James is famous. You can see the beautiful masks made of coconut shells worn during the carnival as well. The narrator, who doesn't mention the African cultural contribution, says that the vegigante (wearing the masks) is the devil and he opposes Saint James (Santiago Caballero). The female character is called Loca (crazy) and according to the narrator paints her face black. In Mexico, the worship of the saint was translated as Santiago Mata Indios (killer of Indians). Here, the "moors" depicted as dark-skinned in Spain are conflated with the descendants of African slaves, while others play the role of the colonial invaders. The woman gets to play the irrational insane outsider, and not surprisingly, her face is painted black.

Obviously I know NOTHING whatsoever about the festival but I can't help but make these conjectures from my contemporary point of view.......I certainly wasn't taught anything about this during my brief period of elementary school (1st to 3rd grades) study on the Island. I only learned what I little I know after coming to New York, then I saw a great exhibition in Puerto Rico called La Tercera Raiz: Precencia Africana en Puerto Rico, and more recently, visited the museum devoted to African culture that is in Old San Juan.

La Tercera Raiz: Presencia Africana en Puerto Rico (Puerto Rico: Centro de Estudios de la Realidad Puertorriqueña, 1992)

Center for Puerto Rican Studies, Hunter College, NY:

Links to research sources:

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